Competent authorities to investigate the regularity of the Ministry of Science’s call

The Centre for Civic Education (CCE) sent an initiative to the Inspection Affairs Administration for initiating the supervision procedure in the Ministry of Science of Montenegro, and investigating eventual irregularities in the context of the Ministry of Science’s Call for this year. Also, complaints are sent to the Agency for Personal Data Protection and Free Access to Information due to the Ministry s rejection to disclose the information to the CCE.

The Call was related to the award of scholarship for PhD researches at universities in Montenegro, and the regularity of the complete procedure is questionable due to the non-transparency of the work of the Ministry of Science, even when it comes to publishing basic information, proactively and also at the CCE’s request for information.

The CCE requested from the Ministry of Science, in line with the Free Access to Information Law, decisions of appointment of international experts who evaluated received applications for this Call, then their CVs and references, information on the duration of the administrative check of the received application, and information about the time in which the evaluation was performed with accompanying reports. CCE requested the ranking list of all candidates, as well as the data on the total of allocated and distributed amount for this Call. The Ministry of Science sent to CCE decisions by which mostly, access to all requested information is rejected.

Before the official response from the Ministry of Science, the outgoing Minister Sanja Damjanović, on her Facebook account, inappropriately commented the CCE’s requests for information and the CCE’s work. In this status, which attracted the attention of the public, and which was shared by the CCE, with a comment, among other things, she claimed that the international and national evaluation procedures are confidential, i.e she demonstrated ignorance concerning the differences between reviewing a scientific paper and making the decision on the public call by which are distributed budgetary resources. Upon the negative reactions, Damjanović deleted her status. Nevertheless, her nervous reaction was noted and the position of the minister that she will reject the requests for information contrary to the law.

Furthermore, in the decisions of rejection of information delivered to the CCE, signed by Damjanović, amongst the other it is stated that the requested information are „not available to the public“ but only to the participants of the Call, with general reference to the „European Union practice“, but with no reference to any legal basis. This clumsy argument and the obsessive need to hide the requested dana only further motivated the CCE to process everything to the competent authorities. Besides, if the public’s right to know were interpreted in the manner it does outgoing minister then it would be a secret who are the members of the 13th July Award Commission, or the other commissions that decide on scholarships or awards from the state budget.

Moreover, information about allocated funds had to be published in the text of the competition, as in almost all previous competitions of the Ministry of Science, and it is unbelievable that Ministry claimed that they do not have decisions on allocated funds. The contradictions of the Ministry are reflected also in the decisions on the rejection of candidates, in which the CCE has insight, and in which it is claimed that the projects were financed in accordance with the allocated budget, so the opinion of the evaluators was not decisive but allocated budget, and this is important taking into account that some of the candidates who were positively evaluated by international experts are rejected. However, in the replay of the Ministry is stated that decisions on the allocated funds were not made, but that final decision was made based on evaluations of the international assessors.

The CGO reminds that before deciding on rejecting access to information, the Ministry was obligated to conduct a hazard test, which Ministry has not done, but the decision was made without any base. Also, in case of refusing access to information, the Ministry was obligated to refer an appropriate domestic or international document that was also not done. Furthermore, the procedure for declaring information confidential is prescribed by the relevant legal acts, and the requested documents do not have a confidential mark nor meet the criteria for confidential information, so these had to be available to the CCE and public, with the accompanying personal data protection where applicable.

CCE expresses concern also that the Ministry of Science has not, in line with the good practice, proactively publish this information. This opens a lot of questions about the conduct of this Call, and hence we requested free access to information. The public has to know who and in which manner decides on the distribution of the state funds, which is also the practice of EU member states. What separates the most progressive EU member states from those to whom critics are often addressed, and also from those who are on the road to EU membership is the transparency and responsibility of the public officials. EU democratic principles and practice, as well as the Montenegrin legislature, give the public right to know how public officers distribute taxpayers’ money. Unfortunately, this is not recognized by the Ministry of Science.

The CCE does not assess the results of the work of the Ministry of Science in various fields, but we emphasize that law should apply to everyone. In that context, we urge the responsible in the Ministry of Science to get familiar with the EU practice before rhetorical reference to it, as well as with the Montenegrin legislation, because these actions could annul also some of the good results in their work.

Damir Suljević, programme associate